Friday, July 4, 2008

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

Years ago (more than I'd like to think about), one of my tutors recommended that I read Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I tried to finish the novel but have to confess that I didn't. I probably lacked the sophistication back then to appreciate the exquisite prose style and painstaking craftsmanship that went into creating that award winning novel. And truthfully speaking I rather thought that Salman Rushdie was going to be one of those many winning authours that would never make to my reading lists. But something about The Enchantress of Florence beckoned, and I decided to give it a go. And I'm truly glad that I did. What an exceptionally enthralling and compelling read The Enchantress of Florence turned out to be.

The Mughal Emperor, Akbar, is ready for a diversion away from the woes of family and ruling a vast nation, when a mysterious yellow-haired stranger arrives at his court in Fatepur Sikri, claiming to be an ambassador from England. The stranger has many tales to tell about the distant European city of Florence, and the enchantress from the East that enraptured the people of Florence with her beauty and grace, and soon everyone in Sikri is enthralled by the young storyteller's tales. But will these stories prove the undoing of the court, and will Akbar's growing affection for the storyteller cause even more strife amongst his family?

When I was a child, my mother used to subscribe to an Indian magazine for women that had recipes, articles, sewing tips and vignettes about Akbar and his wise advisor Birbal. Reading The Enchantress of Florence transported me back to those wonderful carefree days. Constructed somewhat like The Arabian Nights, with the mysterious stranger playing the part of Scherazade, The Enchantress of Florence is a series of short stories that follows the supposed adventures of Qara Koz, a grandaunt of Akbar's, and that of her greatest love, the mercenary general, Argalia. Many of the stories are based on historical fact, but are told with elements of the fantastical, so that the mood and atmosphere of the novel is really quite fairy-tale like and dazzling. Also adding to this magical tone is Rushdie's powerfully lyrical and vivid prose style and brilliantly rendered scenes. All in all, this was a very, very fascinating and beguiling read that enraptures, dazzles and seduces. Not a book to be missed -- and I think I may be finally grown-up enough to appreciate the authour's other novels.

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